Closing Business Doors Means Opening Marketing Opportunity

My friend Joe fulfilled a life-long dream when he purchased an Italian restaurant in January.  Joe looked for years for the perfect location, finally settling on a family owned, sit-down shop on the westside of Cleveland.  One of the first actions Joe took when becoming owner was offering take-out options including carry-out pizza. The first month could not have gone better – regular customers liked some of the changes and new customers saw a sign in the window that take-out was now available. Joe was building a new following while keeping the loyal customers happy.

Less than two months later, Ohio restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms due to the Coronavirus and could only offer take-out and delivery. This news was devasting to many restaurant owners, especially those who did not offer this type of service. And for owners like Joe who did, it only evened the playing field. 

Over the past two weeks, I’ve watched Joe go from restaurateur to marketer.  He now posts daily messages to Facebook that are comical, inspirational and still informative on his daily specials. He created a “make your own pizza” carry out container for families so they could make pizzas together at home. He is even pairing wine with his specials and offering it at a deep discount. While other businesses are forced to lay-off employees, Joe is advertising for more cooks.  Joe’s business may be down, but he is certainly not out and is showing a resilience in the face or adversity by being more creative than his competitors. 

Joe’s story is not unlike that of other business owners, sales reps and marketers we know or work with every day. Never before has the phrase “change or die” been more relevant. Personally, I marvel at how quickly and creatively those around me are moving. For example:

  • My brother Greg sells office furniture and was having a fantastic start to the year. However, as businesses closed doors and employees were told to work from home due to the virus, the phone stopped ringing.  Being a resourceful and creative salesperson, Greg quickly put a note out to his clients with a promotion to help set-up a home office. His main pitch included a deep discount on office chairs. He is sending daily articles and posting best practices to work from home while picking up orders everyday for chairs, desks and file cabinets.  His quick thinking and ability to pivot his marketing message are keeping him busy. 
  • When the Diocese of Cleveland instructed all churches to cease allowing parishioners to attend daily and weekend masses, the pastor at my church, Fr. Steve Flynn, went right to work with his small team to bring mass into our homes.  They began a daily live stream, set-up a YouTube channel and within a few hours was reaching those in a much different way than ever before.  Despite some early kinks, the production value, sound quality and user experience is just like any other program we watch.  He has stayed relevant by changing tactics and adapting to his circumstances, and by doing so is proving a sense of normalcy in a very complicated time.  

I have learned quite a bit about marketing from each of these situations.  Here is what they are doing best:

  1. They are doubling down on marketing. For example, when the governor of Ohio forced restaurants to close dining rooms, Joe did not close up shop.  He purchased boosted posts on Facebook, bought sandwich boards for passing traffic to see his daily specials and invented a new revenue stream with “make your own pizza” promotion.  These investments keep Joe’s restaurant top of mind for those who are deciding what’s for dinner tonight (and allowed Joe to keep his staff working every day).
  2. They are reinventing. In a time where more people are turning away from organized religion, the temporary closing of churches and places of worship could help accelerate this trend for those who may settle into a new routine on Sundays. But Fr. Steve acted quickly, reinventing the way we go to mass and creating a relevancy that has brought friends and family virtually together on Sunday at 10AM.  It is still the most normal, weekly activity my family can look forward to each week in this new work and educate from home environment.
  3. They are engaging others in marketing. The use of social media in each example was a huge help as they relied on friends, customers and prospects to share a story.  I view one of Joe’s videos in just about all my friends Facebook walls; my kids shared with their friends how every Friday we get one the kits and how much fun they have making the pizza; and Joe’s reviews on Yelp and other sites rave about his creative menus (and marketing).
  4. They are consistent.  I received a blast email reminder to subscribe to my church YouTube channel, mass times and how I can continue my weekly contribution electronically. My brother is using direct mail to put information directly in the hands of his prospects.  Joe has purchased new signs for his windows that remind passers-by that he is open and can order online.

The key message – just about every day they are trying to stay top of mind with me. 

We are having these same conversations with you every day at Babcox.  In the past two weeks, marketers who were scheduled to be at a trade show or conference pivoted and now are using us to send a direct email campaign to promote a new product launch.  A handful of advertisers are sponsoring a virtual trade show e-newsletter to bring relevant information to the carwash market. And others are using webinars to take content that was to be shared in a keynote address at a trucking show and engaging with our readers about a new technology. 

The legendary football coach at the University of Michigan, Bo Schembechler, was credited with the saying “those who stay will be champions.”  I truly believe those who stay consistent or even aggressive with their marketing campaigns during this time of uncertainty will emerge as champions within their industries.  Let’s talk about how we can win together. 

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Randy Loeser joined Babcox Media in 2013 as publisher of Tire Review and was later given additional responsibilities as the Director of Digital Media and Group Publisher of Engine Builder. In 2018, Randy transitioned into the role of Group Publisher of Content Services to provide creative and custom content solutions to our clients. Randy has worked for several national B2B publishers in a variety of roles, including publisher, business development, marketing and internet products management. Randy is a 1995 graduate of John Carroll University. Connect with Randy by email or call (330) 670-1234 ext. 285.